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One Night in Camelot

Guest John Bramston

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Eleanora could sense Johan's love for her. She had never doubted him, but now she could feel the depth of his affections. Instinctively, she knew that he could feel her love for him as well. Although she couldn't read his thoughts, she could tell by the passion in his eyes that he wanted to make love to her here where their minds were joined. She wanted the same thing, but perhaps not on her first visit.


She was still a bit nervous about intruding into his magical haven. What if the forces at play here saw her as a threat? The pendant pulsing against her skin was comforting and somehow she knew that it would protect her. But was its magic as strong as that of the forest?


Eleanora gasped when she felt his love flowing strongly through her and around her. Her entire body tingled pleasurably, and she smiled at him lovingly when he squeezed her hand. His fear was gone now, so she knew that he had needed her reassurance. She was certain that he could sense that too, and that it didn't matter to her how he changed. He was still everything to her.


She held the pendant out to him, but when he touched it, he screamed in agony and everything around her reacted to his pain. Her hair whipped about in the sudden wind, and she barely escaped being hit by one of the chairs. The lamps sputtered out and leaves fluttered to the ground where Johan lay unconscious, his hand completely charred.


“Johan!” she cried in alarm. Falling to her knees beside him, she sat down and pulled his head into his lap. If she couldn't still feel his emotions, she would have believed him to be dead. There was regret now and fear, and the need to reassure her. What had her mother's pendant done to him? She reached for it to pull it off and toss it away, but it became hotter and she couldn't remove it. It was as black as Johan's hand now and no longer vibrating.


If he could still feel her emotions, he would sense fear and uncertainty, as well as a deep concern mixed in with her love for him. She picked up his burned hand and kissed it. “Johan, wake up!” she pleaded,gently stroking his cheek. “I didn't know what would happen. Please come back to me!”

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Johan was pale and unresponsive. But there was just a shade brighter on the complex swirl of his feelings as she pulled him into her lap. Even unconscious, some part of him knew. He felt her emotions too, and there were ripples. How she felt affected how he felt, communicating between them. Every thought of love, every bit of worry, led to love and assurance in return.


His burned hand was stiff and tough. The aftereffects of the magical burst circled around it.


After what seemed an eternity, Johan let out a light breath. He weakly leaned into her hand. The movement was almost animal, like he enjoyed its attentions and wanted to trap it. But… he was far too weak to do anything but loll his head after it.


“Eleanora?” His voice had that weak, distant quality of serious injury. “I love you, Eleanora.” His good hand reached up and took hers. He smiled at her weakly. “It’s not your… fault. I love you.” He hadn’t heard what she’d said. But he knew she would never harm him.


Johan, languid and as if his body were heavy, shifted to sit up. He collapsed gently back into her lap. “I’m g-g-going to stay here a while…” The weakness was slowly dissipating. He looked up at her and smiled. It wasn’t his usual smile but it was genuine. Still, it was… lackadaisical.


His eyes tried to find hers, still warm and loving as ever. I love you, He repeated in his head, I love you.. She couldn’t hear his thoughts. But she could feel his love. I’m glad you’re safe… If it had harmed her Johan would be much less calm.


His strength returned quickly, unnaturally so. There was a faint aura of the forest about him, invigorating him. He moved his hand to examine the damage. He rotated it slowly, taking it in. “I c-c-can’t move it anymore. I can’t feel it either.” Fear, regret. Johan didn’t want to lose his hand.


“There is p-p-powerful healing magic in the forest. I d-d-don’t think it will heal me unaided. Maybe you’ll be able to d-d-do something.” Hope, love. But also crushing fear at becoming even more crippled. Maybe not today even… But he was sure she would be a great healer. What am I going to tell the folk? Johan began to dream up stories.


Quietly, “I think the… necklace was truh-trying to kill me.” Johan hated the idea anyone would think Eleanora needed protection from him. Perhaps her mother left her a curse instead of a gift. Or maybe it had been corrupted. We’ll have to find out…

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Even unconscious, he was trying to assure her. Their emotional connection was still strong and for that, Eleanora was grateful. He will know how I feel. Perhaps my love will be enough to awaken him.


When she kissed his hand, she did not feel any pain, and that frightened her as well. Had it been damaged permanently? She didn't think she would be able to live with herself if he lost the use of it. He didn't need another affliction. Maybe the magic of the forest could heal him or he could show her how to do it herself.


Eleanora sighed in relief when he breathed and nuzzled her hand. She continued to caress his face as he told her over and over that he loved her and that it wasn't her fault. He would be able to feel her relief, her concern, her and most of all, her intense affection for him. “I love you too, Johan. I love you so much and I would never harm you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, my love.”


He tried to sit up, but was not yet strong enough. She reached up and gently held his head, lowering it until it was once again cradled in her lap. “It's okay.” His weak smile melted her heart. “We can stay like this as long as we need to. Relax, my darling. I am here for you.”


His emotions were so deep, so compelling, that it took her some time to sense another presence in her head, hovering in the back of her mind. It was strange, a deep profound remorse. Where was it coming from?


Johan's strength returned more quickly than she had expected. Now the strange presence in her head was relieved. The pendant began to pulse and change color again. Could it be …?


Her contemplation was diverted back to her beloved as he lifted his hand and examined it. “I will do everything I can for you, my love.” She could feel his fear of becoming more crippled but it was mingled with hope. The strange presence was hopeful too now and the pendant turned gold and began to glow. “I … I think your emotions overwhelmed it and it was trying to protect me,” she said slowly. “I feel a third set of emotions in my mind, as if my mother's pendant is a living entity.”


The glow spread and Eleanora felt the strong urge to lift up his injured hand so that it was enveloped by the golden aura. “It didn't mean to hurt you, and now I think it wants to heal you.” Her love continued to flow around him and she concentrated her will into the pendant's presence, hoping to aid its power. Hopefully, its magic would work in Johan's enchanted forest.

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“I know.” Johan said to her apologies and her promises it was an accident. His voice was firm, reassuring but firm. There’d never been even a moment where he’d blamed her.


Johan’s weak smile widened just slightly and he nuzzled into her lap. His face soon took on an aspect of utter peace, even as his shallow breaths grew deeper and deeper. Eleanora could feel how much he enjoyed himself, enjoyed experiencing her.


Johan was drawing energy from the forest. He had been acting more energetic before. Now it was restoring him. But he remained in her lap. It was a sign of how deep and magical the wound was. Normally his hand would have started to heal and he would have recovered very quickly.


Johan remained quiet but Eleanora could feel that was contemplation rather than doubt. “It’s p-p-possible.” Johan admitted. The pendant was right that Eleanora was in danger after a fashion. Johan could reach out with a thought and do a thousand nasty things to her here. Here, where his power was greatest.


He wasn’t going to do anything to harm her. Ever. He wasn’t going to treat her like her grandfather had. Johan loved Eleanora so deeply the very thought offended. But the pendant might not have known. Or might not have trusted Johan so completely as Eleanora did. In time, he hoped, the pendant would realize she really was safe with him.


"We should t-t-try and find a way to communicate with it." It obviously tried to guard her. However wary her mother or chaperone was, Johan hoped they would understand their love. And if they thought him unworthy... he would stay with Eleanora anyway. Even the direst curse wouldn't drive him away.


Johan was understandably hesitant when she suggested he touch it again. He trusted Eleanora completely, but naturally feared to touch it twice. After a moment, trepidation heavy in the emotions Eleanora felt, he held up his hand. He moved it vaguely towards her but the hand moved in a heavy, uncontrolled way. Johan couldn’t feel or manipulate it at all. It was effectively dead.


“I c-c-can’t, uh…” The hand wouldn’t move. Eleanora would need to guide it to touch the pendant.

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He seemed quite happy to lie in her lap while he recovered. Eleanora could sense his contentment and her own feelings echoed his. Now she had to be the strong one, and he would know how much she enjoyed caring for him by the emotions flowing through both of them. She had already told him, but now he could experience her feelings on a deeper level.


She was going to miss the connection between them when they left the forest. If he did too, then they would probably return often. If her mother's pesky pendant would let her. Eleanora thought she would be able to leave it behind, that it would allow her to remove it when they went back to his castle, but in a way, its presence comforted her nearly as much as Johan did.


He was improving rapidly, but his hand remained charred. She could feel him contemplating her theory about the pendant. “Maybe it wasn't you that made it feel the need to protect me. Maybe it is reacting to your magic, which is obviously much different than my own. The forest is trying to heal you. I can sense it.”


She nodded at his suggestion that they should try to communicate with it. “I understand it a little bit. We need to convince it that you mean me no harm, not here or anywhere. I should wear it more often, so that it can become accustomed to you, even when we make love.” She smiled down at him. “Unless you find that notion disturbing.”


Eleanora could feel his fear and that he was hesitant to touch the pendant again. Yet still he tried. His hand wouldn't cooperate. It was as if he had lost control of it. The urge to lift it grew stronger and as she looked down at her own hands, they began to glow as well. “I don't think you need to touch it. I just have to touch you.”


Very gently, she lifted his hand and pressed it between both of hers. The golden glow was warm and soothing and it was pulsing around their hands. Eleanora felt slightly weaker and suspected that the pendant was drawing upon her own magic to heal Johan. His hand began to feel more supple and not as stiff as it had been before. Finally, she released it, hoping that it was fully healed.

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“Yes,” Johan acknowledged. Eleanora’s magic was very different from his. There were enough commonalities he could teach her. But ultimately its nature was a mystery to him. “My m-m-magic will be a constant part of your life though.” It might be weaker when they were out of the forest. But the pendant would need to learn Johan was no threat, even when he did cast spells on Eleanora.


Johan looked up at her. His face brightened at her smile, and he smiled in reply. “I d-d-don’t.” It was a bit strange to think of making love watched over by her mother’s pendant. But Johan was rather open minded. “Hopefully it’ll understand to not… draw attention in p-p-public.”


Johan liked the idea of her wearing it though. It would protect her. And Johan always wanted Eleanora to be safe. A part of him wanted her mother to know she’d found her way to safety and happiness too. To rest at least that easy.


Eleanora moved to heal him. John let out an anxious breath. But he closed his eyes and held his hand for her to take.


When Eleanora touched his hand, it was dead and lifeless and tough. It swayed gently, like an inanimate object she’d just tapped. Eleanora could tell Johan felt some pain further down near his wrist but it was slight. Then her magic flowed through. Johan inhaled sharply, a suppressed gasp.


Johan’s hand began to revive. Bones knit themselves to their proper place. Pathways repaired and blood flowed. Skin appeared in patches, shedding off the dead parts with new, healthy growth. For a few moments, Eleanora would have total awareness of Johan’s body, his senses. It was full of insight. The little dysfunctions of his leg. How it felt to tremble. Even what it felt like to talk, to have to sometimes force words that did not naturally flow from his mouth.


And how aware he was of Eleanora’s closeness, how much of his attention was consumed by the feel of his head on her lap, her familiar smell, her loving touch… She could also feel what her magic felt like. It was warm, comforting, loving. Its very touch buoyed Johan’s spirits and eased him.


What came out was not Johan’s hand but a hand that glowed a soft white and blue. Strong, beautiful, and humming with magic. A moment later the magic of the forest came and it became Johan’s hand again. Eleanora might sense that magic felt like when he changed her look, but stronger. It was not the same, not a mere illusion, but it was a similar sort of magic.


Eleanora’s magic healed Johan’s hand fully. Johan opened his eyes to look at it. Relief flooded in and there were just the hints of tears. It had been… overwhelming. “Thank you.” He was relieved and grateful and it flowed through everything. And an overpowering feeling of love and trust, dashed with a little surprise. Eleanora had just worked incredibly powerful magic.


Johan gently reached for her two hands and brought them to his chest. He gently wrapped his hands around hers. “You will be a great healer someday.” He was confident. Her magic was powerful. But more importantly she cared. “There are books in the forest. And I c-c-can…” Johan hesitated, “I can teach you how to change the human body.”


The images that accompanied that were a flurry, like the comment had opened a jar and let the water pour out. An impossibly beautiful woman stood at the center. Johan, no more than a boy, screaming as his leg cracked and bent as she ‘fixed’ it disinterestedly.


Johan, a teenager slightly younger than Eleanora, having his arm being ripped off by a living statue before it was forced to regrow. He was crying, curled and limp and she watched with sadistic glee.


Johan, just a little older than her, clutching his head and covering his eyes as they burned so badly he contemplated clawing them out. He was at least in bed but the woman grabbed one of his hands, checked that the change in color was not done, and then left annoyed at the wait.


And many other scenes of horror. His old mistress had seen Johan as little more than a toy to use and, ultimately, cast aside when he grew too old or too boring.

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“It has no problem with the armband that changes my appearance. I wore it to the gathering and while it felt warm against my skin, it didn't try to hurt you. Maybe it knows that spell protects me. If it holds my mother's essence, then it would know what my grandfather would do to me if my identity was discovered.”


Eleanora hoped that her mother had been able to transfer her consciousness into the pendant before she was drowned. It would explain a great many things, including the blank look on her face when she had been dragged outside to the barrel and the fact that she had not struggled when her head had been held underwater. What if her body had died but her mind lived on?


She was probably just being fanciful. Her mother would have had to have been a very powerful mage to manage a spell like that. Then again, she could feel Johan's own power at the edges of his forest. It was strong and intense and she believed there was nothing that it couldn't do, except heal him when he had been injured by another potent form of magic.


She had not thought that he would mind making love to her when she wore the pendant. “It was quiet until it sensed your emotions and felt the magic of this place. I think it will remain a harmless pendant unless it feels it needs to protect me. I will not wear it all the time until I am able to communicate with it better.”


With his hand clasped between hers, Eleanora couldn't see it began to heal. But she could feel his pain and as her magic continued to flow through him, she could feel something even more surprising … what it was like to be him. She could tell how his various afflictions affected him and how comfortable he felt in her lap. He was soothed by her magic and not frightened or distrustful of it. His love for her was pure and beautiful and compelling.


And for one brief insightful moment, she knew how to heal him completely and permanently. Yet that knowledge was gone so quickly that she wondered if she had imagined it.


The pendant's glow gradually faded and when it looked like a normal crystal again, she let Johan's hand go. It was perfect and whole again, and it was surrounded by a lovely blue and white glow until the magic of the forest changed it into flesh. At least her magic was not fighting with his. The pendant seemed to know that they were in his domain.


“You're welcome,” she replied. Johan would be able to sense her relief and her happiness that she had been able to help him. Eleanora was a bit dizzy and felt too weak to stand up, but she didn't think it would take too long to regain her strength. It seemed strange that she had fainted when casting a simple spell but a much more powerful one had not completely drained her. The pendant either enhanced her magic with its own or lessened its impact on her energy. “It was my fault to begin with.”


Her hands felt warm enveloped in his. “I hope so. You know how much I want to be a healer.” She hoped that he would show her those books today. When he told her he could teach her to change the human body, his anguish washed over her. Although she couldn't see the images in his mind, she could feel his reaction to them. He had gone through such horrible things, much more terrifying than she had.


Eleanora clasped his hands tightly. “I will never let anything bad happen to you ever again,” she promised. “Whatever that creature did to you, it's in the past. You are safe now. I will protect you.”

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It was possible. Some people passed on completely, but others lingered or remained in new forms. Johan had had to summon eldritch magics to destroy his old mistress completely. Eleanora’s grandfather would not have anything like that at his command.


Even if her mother had died that day, the dead could be tied to the world, especially by obligations or regrets. A mother desperate to make sure her daughter was safe might watch over her, forming the core of Johan’s people’s belief about the waelcyrae. Or Eleanora’s necklace could contain part of her mother’s soul, a gift that would let her mother stay with her always.


Or it could just be a highly intelligent protection spell. But Johan hoped to find out just what it was.


Johan grinned. He loved Eleanora and their intimacy was fantastic. The very thought brought a smile to his face. “It will be used to me soon. And it will know how m-m-much we love each other.” Though perhaps that wouldn’t help. It was possible her mother would disapprove of the match…


“Accidents happen.” Johan said casually. “Magic is d-d-dangerous. A bruh-brilliant tool. But a dangerous one.” Johan knew Eleanora would respect its power. And he would repeat that lesson. But while it was dangerous, Johan thought it more beneficial than not. It was a great gift, especially when free of the strings his own magic had come with.


If Johan’s lady had been worse than her grandfather, it was only because she was more powerful. If her grandfather had known magic, rather than hating it, no doubt Eleanora would have suffered as badly. Twisting her into the perfect, docile, obedient bride he wanted.


Johan shifted and nuzzled in, hands tightly on hers. “I know. You m-m-make me feel safe and loved and…” Johan interrupted what could have been a very long list, “I love you.” While the emotions still flowed Eleanora brought him such joy and comfort the world was bright. She could feel that, along with love and gratitude. Like a wave of sadness breaking on rocks.


“I… wanted you to see this…” Johan started, working up his courage and continuing, “I brought you here because this… p-p-place is a wound. Full of bad memories. But it’s… mine and a p-p-part of me. I was hoping you could help. That we c-c-could make it into a place of joy.” Johan gently brought her hands towards his face and kissed each of her palms, “Make new, good memories.” And to reveal more about himself. To share in a place that was, very literally, a part of him.

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“I think it already does. It has settled down now. It also needs to become accustomed to your magic. And your forest needs to become accustomed to me. We are part of each other and always will be.” Love emanated through her every word and Eleanora knew that Johan could feel it, as well as her concern and regret.


“I shouldn't have told you to touch it. I just wanted you to feel the way it vibrates like a beating heart. It did not seem dangerous but now I know better. But I am afraid that I will accidentally hurt you again if I don't learn to control my magic soon.” Fear was mixed with her love for him, and uncertainty and confusion as well. There was so much she didn't know about her gift, and so much that he could teach her.


Eleanora could tell that her vow to protect him comforted him. His emotions were calmer now. She was nothing like the fae who had twisted him to conform to her own desires. Her love for him was pure and true and she wanted nothing more than for him to be happy. But she believed there would be some adjustments to make concerning their magic. Eventually, she hoped the two forces would become compatible with each other.


Perhaps their children would be born with a mixture of his magic and hers. Or they would have one or the other. Or maybe none at all. “And I love you,” she said. Those words could never be repeated enough, in her opinion.


“And the first memory I have given you is a bad one.” He would be able to feel her remorse, but as he kissed her palms, joy eclipsed her sorrow. “We will make it into a place of delight. Maybe our love can even transform those evil creatures you told me about and they will find peace.”


Eleanora leaned forward and kissed his forehead, her long flaxen hair cascading around them. “Will you show me more of it today or do you think we should wait to explore it fully later?” She was interested in the library and the books of healing he had told her about.

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Johan felt sympathy at her regret and fear. Johan shook his head (an awkward gesture in her lap). “You d-d-didn’t know. I don’t blame you.” Eleanora had always been a dangerous proposition. Whether her magic, the criminal nature of their elopement, her grandfather, kidnapping a guest at royal court… Johan still loved her without reservation. He’d never, not even when he thought he’d lost his hand, regretted his choice of her.


Johan’s love waxed at her declaration of love, creating an almost overwhelming sensation. Johan smiled joyfully and soon that overtook his other emotions. It reached its peak when she said she loved him and Johan nuzzled gently in her lap. Her hands were warm in his. Her closeness made this paradise.


“Not so b-b-bad.” Johan said with a small smile. “You healed me.” It was the first time she’d worked magic on him. Eleanora could feel the swell. Johan thought it was wonderful thing.


Johan smiled as Eleanora hoped to turn the forest into a place of love and hoped to heal all the evil things of their wickedness. There were some Johan doubted would ever turn. But others… Johan had long thought of them as irredeemable. But perhaps they were just hurt too, in their own way. “You,” Johan repeated, “will m-m-make an excellent healer.” And an incredible wife. Johan felt fortunate to have her.


Johan looked up as she came down. Her eyes were so rich and blue. The stray rays of the sun poked through her hair. Its length tickled his face and he laughter burbled off his lips. The joy of life, emanating through the forest and centered on Eleanora.


“We should still go… in.” Johan said. They were near its boundary but hadn’t gone inside. “I want to show you the p-p-place where you can heal your bruises. And the library. And…” Johan realized he was going on, “We m-m-might run out of time.” He admitted.

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Eleanora could sense that he didn't blame her for his injury, but that didn't stop her from feeling guilty about it. She had healed him, though, and no permanent damage had been done. Even the thought of hurting him distressed her. Maybe the pendant would feel her remorse and realize that he would never be a threat to her. He had saved her from a horrible fate, and if the crystal did contain her mother's consciousness, it should be grateful that he had spirited her away from her cruel and abusive grandfather, the man who had also been responsible for her own death.


She could understand its fear at this strange place that was teeming with equally strange magic. But it was Johan's magic, and she knew that he would never harm her. Even without the pendant, she felt safe, for he would always protect her.


“I don't know how I healed you.” Eleanora could feel his pride in her, and she hoped that he could feel the happiness that flowed through her mind. Happiness and love and satisfaction and contentment. “I promise that the rest of your memories will be good ones."


The entire forest seemed full of joy when she leaned down to kiss his forehead. It truly did respond to his every emotion and she wondered what would happen if they made love here. Would flowers suddenly bloom everywhere? Would the entire forest glow with their love?


She beamed when he said she would be an excellent healer. “It's what I want more than anything but you. Healing with magic will help people accept it rather than fear it and then we will not have to hide it anymore.”


Eleanora was glad that he wanted to continue into the forest. “There's a place that can heal bruises?” Hers were not as fresh as the ones he had received from her grandfather's knight. She was more concerned with healing him than herself. “You can show me some of it now and the rest of it can wait for another day.”


She kissed him again, on the lips this time. “Whenever you're ready, I will help you stand up.” If he was still weak, it was possible that he might need her assistance. Her own energy had fully returned.

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Johan had spoken of the healing lake earlier. Johan had some hesitation about working magic on her because of his personal hang ups. But he did want to relieve her of the bruises her grandfather had left on her. To wash that away. And perhaps Eleanora could learn something from its healing properties.


When Eleanora leaned over to kiss him on the lips, Johan’s hand left hers and came to gently hold her neck. He drew her into a deep kiss, lips locked in intimate embrace. Passion and pleasure flowed through the forest and Johan gently stroked her hand in an affectionate gesture. He smiled happily as she pulled away. “I love you,” Words he never said lightly but always loved to say.


Johan could always use help standing up. He was still out of sorts too. He would lean on Eleanora and need her help standing, but wide smiles and a gentle squeeze where he grabbed hold spoke of affection. Soon he was standing tall again, but a hand still rested on her shoulder for balance.


As they walked he regained his strength, both due to time and the forest. Rather than letting go he shifted lower and took her arm through his. The forest became deeper and denser as they walked past the cottage. Johan appeared to get stronger as he went, his limp becoming less and less pronounced, his shakes dying slowly.


He stopped and turned to face her. He said nothing but smiled, pulling her against him, bodies pressed together. He looked deeply into her bright blue eyes with a small, knowing smile. A finger gently ran along her jawline, settling below her chin and drew her into a deep kiss.


And as they kissed Johan transformed. His body shifted and suffused with a bright white-blue light. His hair grew out and intertwined with brambles. A crown of brambles grew on his head, tipped with berries. He stood straighter, his limp gone. His face became sharper, handsomer, though still recognizably his. Everything about him became perfectly pleasing and possessed a supernatural aura of perfection, of attractiveness. This was the glamour of the fae, the supernatural aura that made them so irresistible. Even his smell became as pleasant as perfume.


And when his lips gently pulled away from hers, his voice was deep and sonorous. “My dear Eleanora.” Yet there was something subtly… inhuman about him. Something that set him apart from simply a very attractive man. That made him more at home here in the forest than the city.


Johan still held her tight, enjoying the press of their bodies. And he quietly hoped for assurances of her love.

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Eleanora had intended for her kiss to be brief, but he deepened it and she sighed in pleasure. His kisses always thrilled her and she didn't think they would ever become boring. Each one was different; each one was divine. And the forest's response made his kiss even more exciting. “I love you more,” she teased him, as she had many times before. In truth, she believed they loved each other equally, as much as it was possible for one person to love another. And unconditionally, as well.


She supported him as he stood up, not minding at all that he leaned on her a bit. His smile entranced her and she grinned back as they walked further into the forest. His hand remained on her shoulder and she could sense the rest of his strength returning. Soon he looped his arm through hers and she noticed that he wasn't limping or shaking as much as usual. He was transforming again.


The pendant began to pulse once more in tune with the beating of her heart. Eleanora had not tucked it into her bodice and she could see the colors changing. The presence in her mind was calm but a bit wary and she tried to reassure it, thinking of how much she and Johan loved each other so that it would know that he would not hurt her.


When he stopped and pulled her into his arms for another passionate kiss, the pendant warmed but now it seemed to be content. Eleanora was so caught up in the lovely sensations trilling through her body that she didn't notice him changing until he broke the kiss and spoke to her in a deep otherworldly voice. Her eyes widened as she beheld his glowing countenance. His hair was mixed with brambles and he wore a crown of them on his head which seemed to be a part of him. His appearance had been enhanced to perfection, but he was still her Johan and she was not afraid.


“You look like a forest King,” she commented, her curves pressed tightly against him. “That's what you are, isn't it? You are the King of this magical place and it obeys your commands.” Eleanora reached up and stroked his cheek. “Yet you are still the man I love above all else.” Her love for him flowed around them, deep and pure and true. “No matter how much you change, my love for you never will."

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Johan looked down at Eleanora, a heavy joy in his eyes. He embraced her, his head over her shoulder, and squeezed tightly. Love burst forth from him and the forest itself lit up. He’d always feared this part of him, felt it was inflicted. And while he’d always known Eleanora would accept him, it was still a joy and a relief to hear her reassurance.


After what seemed like an eternity he pulled back. “Wherever I am King, you are Queen.” His hands found her hand on his cheek and gently held it, squeezing softly. His urges to be with her, and to share everything with her, came through with his love. Though the forest’s magic didn’t react any differently than it had before.


“I am powerful here. So very powerful.” That fact disheartened rather than cheered Johan. Similar emotions to when he remembered his mistress’s abuse flooded out. He unconsciously gripped Eleanora just a bit tighter. They subsided as he did. “But this place doesn’t obey me. It’s not… separate.”


Johan struggled with words so he closed his eyes. As he held Eleanora’s hand, she could feel their magics mixing like they had before. But rather than giving her control she came to feel the nature of his magic. The forest was a vast ocean but whereas Eleanora was a presence in it… Johan was not. He was indistinguishable from the forest’s deep ocean of magic, not just a part of it but wholly one with it. Johan made a slight effort, almost difficult in how gentle he had to be to not have a larger effect.


With a great creaking and rustling, an apple tree had grown behind Eleanora in all but an instant. A single branch bent down, resting just above their heads. The branch had many bright, delicious looking apples. But brighter than all of them was a crown in Eleanora’s size. It was a crown of flowers with a design matching Johan’s. At its center was a single bramble rose standing out from the rest. It was bright and fragrant and hummed with the magic of the forest.


The awareness slowly faded and Johan looked to Eleanora for comprehension. “Do you want anything?” Johan asked. “Anything at all?”

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Eleanora melted into Johan's embrace. He felt different now that he had transformed into a magical being, but he was still the same man she had fallen hopelessly in love with. This new form was part of who he was, and she accepted that. Perhaps if he had turned into a fearsome beast with glowing eyes and sharp fangs, she would have felt differently. Or maybe she would have seen the love shining in his eyes and accepted him that way as well.


She could feel his joy and she turned her head and kissed the hand he had placed upon hers. The pendant was now humming and it had turned a tranquil shade of blue. Eleanora gazed at him thoughtfully when he said she was the Queen of the forest. She was about to suggest that the forest didn't know her well enough to accept her as its Queen, but she could feel his power flowing through it and before he told her that he and the forest were connected, she was able to sense it.


“You and the forest are one,” Her voice was full of wonder. “Just as you and I are one. I don't think I will ever become a part of this place, though. Your magic is not the same as mine, but it is ...”


She jumped slightly in his arms when she heard the creaking behind her. It was as if she could feel the earth moving beneath her feet and she turned her head and watched an apple tree grow to maturity in what seemed like a single moment. She could tell by the concentration on Johan's face that he had willed it into existence.


One branch bowed down and Eleanora gasped with delight when she saw the beautiful flower crown nestled among the apples. The bloom in the center was a bramble rose, which he had told her would always bring him to her if they should become separated. She reached out to trace its soft petals with one delicate fingertip.


When he asked her if she wanted anything, she felt that all she had to do was name an object and he would create it for her. “All I want is you,” she replied, picking up the crown and settling it on her head. “Will I be able to take this lovely crown home with me or will it have to remain here until we return? It is so beautiful and it makes me feel as if I belong here.”

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“You might.” Johan said. “One day. Our futures… If we wish it, our futures might be completely intertwined. And we will be a part of each other fully.” But that was a commitment beyond even marriage. One that lasted for more than a lifetime. One that lasted for an eternity. He didn’t doubt Eleanora’s love for a second but it was a gigantic decision. He didn’t expect her to decide now.


“You can take it with you.” Johan said. Here he was powerful enough to make permanent changes. “It will retain its magic too.” Eleanora’s feeling was more than just sentiment. While the forest had never been hostile, any sense of submersion went away while she wore it. The magic was still there but its presence was no longer large or oppressive. It no longer probed and pushed or buffeted her with impersonal currents. It became a gentle presence, like Johan’s embrace in a warm bath.


She was correct about the rose too. The bramble rose gave him some sense of where she was and could bring him to her.


Johan gently squeezed her hand. “You d-d-do belong here. You belong by my side. Wherever that is.” He smiled at her. Johan didn’t want to ever be separated. He marveled how much he wanted Eleanora in every part of his life. How he actually desired to show her all the little nooks and crannies and private spots. How she improved each and every one by her presence. A smile grew on his lips and he leaned down to kiss her.


He drew away, grinning with love. “Let’s go to the healing spring first. Can you feel where it is? Sense its magic?” Johan’s wounds were fresher and might be more painful. But he felt a symbolic power in removing hers. He was removing the bruises her grandfather had left. They would never be replaced. Not while Johan drew breath.


There was more, but after the spring and the library they might depart. Eleanora seemed eager to get back to their bed. He was too. Before they left Johan would make sure they were properly attired for a wedding night.

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Eleanora tilted her head to the side. “I thought our futures were already intertwined forever.” She didn't understand what he meant. Had he changed his mind about marrying her since the pendant had hurt him? It had healed him too. She didn't feel quite as close to him here as she did anywhere else, but she believed that was because the forest part of him didn't trust her yet and she was still becoming accustomed to his transformation. Still, she loved him deeply and unconditionally and that would never change.


It never occurred to her that he might be immortal and could one day offer that option to her.


She smiled when he told her she could take the crown with her and that it would retain its magic. She assumed that the flowers would stay fresh and never wilt. The forest felt different now that it was on her head, more like a part of Johan than a completely separate entity. It seemed to accept her and she could sense its magic flowing over and around her like a gentle breeze. The pendant began pulsing with color again but it soon calmed down. Eleanora did feel as if she belonged here now. It was an intriguing sensation.


“It knows who I am, doesn't it, and that you have chosen me as your mate” When he kissed her, she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed against him. She had to stand on the tips of her toes because he was taller now.


She concentrated on feeling the magic of the healing spring, and finally she found it. “It's very faint, but I think I know where it is. We both need our bruises healed, so we can enjoy its benefits together.” Eleanora wondered if they would have to bathe in it. If they did, their wedding night might take place a little early.

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“Yes, I misspoke.” Johan said with an apologetic but happy smile. “It’s the length of that future that might change.” It was a romantic notion but Johan believed even if they did pass they would be together beyond the grave. His love for her hadn’t decreased for her one bit. Nor had his desire to marry her. He wanted to proclaim their love to all the world.


He would have been even happier to know she felt like she belonged. He always wanted her to feel that. It was what he’d so often lacked.


Johan’s lips eagerly met hers, “It knows.” Johan breathed into the kiss. Every part of him loved her, desired her. And anywhere that was his home would be hers. He pulled her against him, leaning over to meet his petite lover. He smiled widely and let out a laugh just at the joy of their life and her lips. A giddy happiness washed over everything and Johan’s eyes lingered on her with adoration.


Johan hadn’t known whether she could feel the magic. That she could was a good sign. While this place shone brightly with magic, the ability to feel it still took being in touch with the mystical elements. Eleanora was clearly improving. “That’s my girl.” Johan said. He was clearly impressed and his pride in her shone brightly. She was improving rapidly.


He nodded to them both using it, hoping her fear of water wouldn’t be an issue. Nothing happened at first. He gently ran his hand along her arm, still clutching his neck, and wrapped his own around her waist. “Hmm.” He was perfectly pleased with her. There was no greater pleasure in the world than being in each other’s arms.


But they needed to let go at some point. One hand reached up to the apple tree. Johan picked one of the apples. He smiled mischievously and stepped away (kissing her hand before he let go).


He placed the apple on the ground. With a wave of his hand it grew into a large red carriage, plush red velvet on the exterior trimmed with gold and red tinted glass windows. The wheels were wooden and resembled apple stems curled over and smoothed into wheels. The interior was the fleshy white of an apple and had a faintly sweet, pleasant smell. It was well cushioned.


Johan opened the door and held out a hand, ready to help Eleanora in. A pleased smile crossed his face, happy with his work and hoping it would impress her.

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Her eyes widened. “You are immortal? And you can make me immortal too?” Eleanora was not certain how she felt about that. She would have to watch everyone she cared for grow old and die, perhaps even her own children. Or maybe they would be born immortal. There was so much about Johan's magic that she didn't know.


He might look different now, but his kisses were just as enthralling. Instead of closing her eyes, she gazed up into his otherworldly face, sighing against his lips as he pulled her close. He felt different too. They still fit together perfectly, her curves conforming to his angles. No matter what form either of them took, she doubted that would change. Nor would their love ever wane. It seemed stronger here, as if her feelings were being amplified by the forest's magic. Did he feel it too?


Again, she wondered what it would be like to make love to each other here. Was there a castle hidden away somewhere, or even a cute little cottage with a bed? What would he look like naked now? Eleanora supposed she would have to wait for the answers to those questions. They didn't have much time and she wanted to see the library and heal Johan's bruises in the spring.


He seemed so proud of her for sensing the magic of the spring. Was that so unusual? Did nobody but him usually know its location? Maybe it was hidden to anyone without magic of their own. Or because of her unconditional love for its master, the forest had shown it to her. She wondered if he had brought any other woman here. Jealously, she hoped that he hadn't.


Eleanora trembled in pleasure when his hand wandered over her arm and then wrapped around her waist. Held so close against him, she realized that he smelled different too. The spicy verdant scent of the forest clung to him, fragrant and pleasant.


Her fear of water was not as terrifying here, but she didn't think she would be able to fully submerse herself in the spring. Perhaps the magic of the forest was suppressing it. Maybe she would be able to kneel beside it and scoop water upon her bruises. If she couldn't manage that, Johan could bring her some of the water in a bucket. He had conjured her beautiful crown. Conjuring a bucket should be easy.


He reached up and plucked an apple from the tree and then stepped away. Why was he smiling like that? She expected him to take a bite out of the apple or offer it to her, but he placed it on the ground instead. When he waved his hand over it and it began to grow, Eleanora jumped back, surprised, watching as it turned into a carriage. It still resembled an apple, even down to its scent, and she was completely enchanted.


She took his hand as he opened the door, climbing inside with his assistance. “There are no horses,” she pointed out. “How is it going to be pulled? Or can you create horses out of apples as well?”

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  • 3 weeks later...

“Not immortal, ageless.” Johan clarified. He could still be killed or hurt. But Johan would live as a fae until he was killed. In truth, his desires were somewhat selfish. He didn’t want to watch her grow old and die. He’d prefer, when they grew old and it was their time to pass, that they retreated to the world of fairies and lived eternally as king and queen.


Johan let out low sounds of pleased closeness as Eleanora pushed against him. She felt so good against him. She was perfect for him in every way and they fit together so well. His feelings of love radiated out as ever, now tinged with a stronger color of desire. His emotions were stronger in this place. Here his most base and primal elements came out in force. And while those had an undeniably carnal element, Eleanora would feel a more platonic sort of love too.


Johan wanted her at night. He wanted her in the day too. He desired to have her in bed and to hold her hand in innocent fashion. The two desires built on each other to reach an overwhelming crescendo of love. And while her beauty had certainly helped her chances, it was the combination of the two that placed her ahead of all other women in Johan’s heart now and forever.


Johan was impressed by Eleanora’s increasing control of magic. Eleanora would find it particularly easy to sense magic here. The place was soaked in it.


Johan smiled mischievously at her question. Who would pull their carriage? Johan let out a whistle. For a time there was nothing. Then a thud. Johan climbed in the carriage, arm casually wrapping around Eleanora’s waist. His hand ran gently along her chin and he gazed her lovingly. Then another thud. Johan didn’t seem to notice. Then another. A great beast was approaching.


A giant bear with red eyes and thorns growing from his back emerged. His teeth were a vicious thicket of gleaming sharpness. His jaw was easily large enough to eat a man whole. He roared with great ferocity and many birds scattered. Johan quietly stroked her back, as if to calm Eleanora. He came right up to the carriage sniffing and roaring.


Johan smiled at Eleanora. His hand ran along her back, as if anticipating discomfort. Johan stuck his hand out of the carriage. And after a few sniffs the bear bounded around the carriage in excitement, letting out yelps of joy. The ground shook as he jumped and landed.


“Gerbar,” He said to Eleanora, “I used to ride him on the Wild Hunt. Yes.” Johan’s eyes went distant for a second, trapped in memories. Eleanora could feel they were heavy with regret. Johan had hurt people under his old mistress’s influence. It was one of his great regrets, that he had been bewitched into supporting such evil. Elanora might remember Johan had confessed such evil deeds, even admitted he kidnapped people.


“I’ll introduce you later.” Johan promised in a slightly distant tone. Despite the fearsome and demonic appearance of the bear, in Johan’s presence he seemed to be reduced to little more than a puppy.


With a sharp whistle the giant bear, Gerbar’s fur intertwined with brambles, took up the front of the carriage. He bounded forward and the carriage lurched before it smoothed. Johan held Eleanora tightly with the shaking and smiled as it smoothed. He was having a grand time.


“I’ve never been as…” Johan paused a moment, “I’ve never shown this to anyone else. But I feel like I can share anything with you,” Johan gently moved closer, rejoicing in her presence. He pulled her into gentle embrace. There was a moment where he almost seemed ready to speak. Instead he pulled her close in the bounding carriage, gently tugging her head to his chest, arms wrapped around her.

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“So you will never grow old but you can still die?” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “How old are you exactly?” He looked to be only a few years older than she, but it was possible that he was hundreds of years old. It was a difficult concept to wrap her mind around.


“And you can give the gift of agelessness to me? Or can I cast a spell with my own magic so that I will no longer age? What about our children? I do not wish to watch them grow old and die.” Eleanora did not think she was a fae, but she supposed that her mother could have been one. Her magic was different than what she sensed in the forest, though. It probably came from an entirely different source.


She could feel his lust for her mingled with his love. Once more, they were thinking along the same lines, and she wondered if they would be able to make it out of the forest before giving into their desires. He would be able to feel her longing, as well as her innocent pleasure in being held so close against him.


Johan's smile was mischievous when she asked how the carriage would be pulled. Was he calling for horses when he whistled? As he climbed into the carriage, Eleanora heard a thud that seemed to shake the ground. She jumped, grateful that his arm was wrapped around her waist. He didn't seem to notice anything amiss, and she closed her eyes and smiled as he caressed her face. Yet when another thud resounded through the forest, they flew open. “Something's coming,” she whispered, her hand seeking his.


She cried out when she saw the huge bear and practically leaped onto Johan's lap when it roared. Eleanora was absolutely certain it was going to devour then both and tried to stop him from sticking his hand out of the carriage. The bear seemed to recognize him and she couldn't help smiling when it began to bounce around excitedly, despite her fear of it.


Eleanora had read about the Wild Hunt in stories but had never considered that it might be real. She felt Johan's remorse and sorrow at the horrible things he had done. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she kissed his cheek, letting him know that she didn't hold his past deeds against him. He had been enchanted and he'd had no choice. “Don't think about those things,” she whispered, trying to comfort him. “They are a part of your past, but not of your future. I do not love you less for what that evil fae made you do.”


Eleanora was not sure she wanted to be introduced to the frightening bear. Sliding out of Johan's lap, she peered out the window in wonder, watching as brambles wove themselves into its fur. It moved to the front of the carriage and suddenly, they lurched forward. The bear was certainly enthusiastic. She clung to Johan as the coach bounced a few times before finally settling down.


“I'm glad you brought me here,” she replied. “You can share anything with me. We are one now, you and I.” Her fear was subsiding now that she was wrapped in his embrace. When he pulled her head down to his chest, she rested her ear against his heart, reveling in its steady beat. “I can hardly believe that I am riding in a carriage made from an apple that is being pulled by a giant bear. I feel as if I am living in a dream, but I always feel that way with you.” Turning her head, she kissed his chest. “You are full of surprises, my dear Johan.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

Johan smiled widely at Eleanora’s narrow eyes. He let out a peel of laughter, “Twenty-one.” Eleanora knew of Johan’s family, and they were the right age. Johan hadn’t always told her everything but he’d not lied to her. “But the fae that entrapped me was at least a five hundred years old. And she was considered young.”


Eleanora had found Johan at the beginning of his long life. It was part of why he considered it serendipitous. He thought a centuries old being would be too jaded to fall in love as he had. And it meant he’d been spared having to wait centuries for her.


“I can give it. But it would bind you to me. Permanently. Not just for this lifetime, but for all lifetimes forever.” Johan was imagining blending part of their souls together, a commitment that ensured they would be together forever, in life and death. But even something lesser, like keeping her from aging in his domain, was a permanent commitment.


“I don’t know what will happen to our children.” Johan admitted. “But I know what would happen if I had children with an ordinary woman. Our children would be faelings. Beautiful, magical, connected with natural. And exceptionally long lived.” Though not entirely ageless, they often lived centuries. And some did manage to lay aside their mortal parts and become ageless.


Johan smiled as he felt Eleanora’s emotions. He loved the intimacy of it, the closeness. He felt more than ever like they were a part of each other.


Johan took her hand at the rumbling approach. He smiled and tugged Eleanora close when she jumped. “It’s alright.” He assured her. His former mount was actually a rather gentle creature. While he retained the body granted to him for war, he was freed from the malign influence of Johan’s kidnapper. Now he had the nature of an excitable puppy. He still looked rather fearsome and was more than capable in war though.


But soon Eleanora’s fear melted to her more immediate concerns. He leaned gently in as she kissed and caressed him. “I know.” Johan said quietly when she said she didn’t love him less. “And I love you for it.” It had changed Johan. He wasn’t sure if it was for the better. But there was no doubt in his mind that he could confess every evil deed and Eleanora would just take him in her arms and whisper her love and forgiveness. Not even a spec of doubt.


Johan gently cradled Eleanora’s head when she leaned down, idly playing with her hair. He found this delightful and that flowed out to Eleanora. “I want to share everything with you.” Johan said, smiling. There was a quiet, sweet sincerity in his tone. "There are many wonders in this place. But you are the most wonderful."


Eleanora turned to kiss his chest. It tingled slightly through the fabric. Johan gently turned Eleanora’s head up and leaned down. His lips lingered on hers, a passionate embrace. The forest flowed again with lust and love and simple pleasure at her closeness.


The carriage continued forward.

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Yes, Eleanora had met Johan's family, but how did she know that they weren't really his great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren instead? Maybe they had been pretending so that no one would suspect that he was no mere mortal. Relief flooded her body when he said he was only twenty-one. She didn't know why, but the thought of him being hundreds … or thousands … of years old unnerved her.


Being bonded to him forever, though, appealed to her. Their love would last for centuries and they wouldn't have to worry about one of them dying before the other. She assumed that if they were bonded so closely, they would both die at the same time, if they died at all. It was what she wished for, even if it came sooner rather than later. Eleanora didn't want to live without him. Her soul would be gone and she would only be an empty shell.


And it seemed as if their children would live for a long time as well. They would be beautiful, magical, and have an affinity for nature. However, she wasn't an ordinary woman. She had magic as well and their children might inherit her gifts too. She did have one fear, which she needed to tell him about eventually.


“It is what I want,” she declared. Her lyrical voice held a confident note. “I want to be bonded to you until the end of time. Now that I know that we will not have to watch our children or grandchildren grow old and die, I will never change my mind. You are my heart, my soul, and my life. I never want to be without you. Can you bond me to you today?”


In the apple-carriage, Eleanora was thankful for his reassurance about the giant bear. It still frightened her, but it did act a bit like a puppy. Maybe she would become accustomed to it in time, although she doubted she would ever be comfortable enough to ride upon its back. Unless Johan rode with her.


She reassured him as well about his guilt over his past. There was nothing he could confess to her that would make her love him less. She knew what it was like to be imprisoned, to be at the mercy of a cruel master. She'd had to do everything her grandfather had demanded of her or he would have beaten her more often. At least he had never made her hurt anyone.


“You are much more amazing than I am,” she countered. “I don't have a magical forest that does my bidding." She could feel the way the forest reacted to her simple kiss. “I want to share everything with you too, including my fears for the future.” Eleanora raised her head and looked up at him, her blue eyes full of worry. “I am afraid for our children, that your magic and mine will clash and they will suffer because of it. What if I can't carry them to term or they die right after they're born because our magic conflicts within them?”


She sighed. “As soon as my grandfather has been defeated, I want us to travel to my kingdom. There must be people still there who remember my mother. Maybe they know where she came from. I need to know more about my magic and where it originated. All I know is that I have it and that it probably came from her. What if there are others like me out there somewhere?”

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  • 2 weeks later...

Johan smiled and held Eleanora comfortingly at her relief. He was not some jaded centuries old man come to toy with a fresh youth. He was as young and enamored as he appeared.


“It’s a powerful process. It takes a great deal of magic. But it can be done today.” Johan smiled. His fingers interlaced gently with hers. He looked at her, eyes deep and heavy with love. There were no doubts in his mind. He could feel there were no doubts in hers. They felt perfect for each other to him, soul mates about to embark upon an eternity of bliss.


And soon they spoke of how wonderful they were to each other. Johan was about to raise his reply, that Eleanora was wonderful in a thousand ways more than his forest… when her eyes looked up to him full of worry. She spoke of fear. Johan suddenly became sober looking. His eyes met hers. He was obviously worried for whatever she wished to share. And her thought was a dark one indeed.


There was one thing he was sure of, “Nothing, no trial, nothing could ever make me love you less.” And it was important every answer flowed from a place where that was known. He wasn’t sure what they’d do. But he wanted Eleanora to know that he’d not abandon her, not even over a lack of an heir.


Eleanora thought there were answers in her grandfather’s kingdom. Johan nodded, “As soon as he is dead or we are ready to go there and make war upon him. I will reveal who you are, we will marry, and then we will depart for your kingdom immediately.” It was necessary for political reasons. But Johan was eager to overturn her grandfather’s old order for other reasons. If the men Eleanora’s grandfather employed were so rotten, he’d be doing the world a favor by casting them out.


“I still want us to find your mother’s body, if I can. And bring it to proper rest.” There would be a lot of investigation to be done. Hopefully the end of her grandfather’s terror would help. But perhaps her grandfather was an accurate reflection of his people’s beliefs. It might take longer to change those views. “But we should find out all we can.” He expected his library to help a little. But there would be infinitely more knowledge in her own kingdom.


“What if there are others?” Johan asked, quietly. “What will you do?” And who would they be?

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Eleanora's eyes glittered with joy when Johan said he could make her immortal today. She squeezed his fingers when he entwined them with hers. She was not afraid of being connected to him forever but she was a bit worried that using so much magic would drain him. Yet she sensed his confidence and his pleasure that she was eager to make the bond between them permanent. He had the power of the forest to draw his strength from, just as she had drawn hers from her mother's pendant to heal his hand. The difference was that he had experience and knew what he was doing. Everything she accomplished with her magic was mostly by chance.


Would she feel different when their lives were bound together by magic? She knew that it was impossible to love him more than she already did, but would she be able to sense his feelings the way she could now, even outside his enchanted forest? Would making love to him become even more pleasurable? Whatever happened, she believed that heir relationship would be enhanced, even if only in subtle ways.


She almost decided against telling him her fear for their children when she beheld the worry in his eyes. Eleanora knew without a doubt that he would not love her less if she was unable to give him an heir. “I know, and nothing will never make me love you less either. I just don't want our children to suffer because our magic is incompatible. Maybe if it is, I will not be able to become pregnant at all. I would rather be barren than watch our children die.”


She listened intently to his plans. So if her grandfather didn't find them, Johan would declare war upon him. Eleanora hoped that his people would agree to fight for her … a foreign princess who had deceived them by hiding her identity. In the long run, adding her lands and wealth to Johan's would benefit all of them. And her own people would no longer be subjected to cruelty or live in fear.


“I almost hope we don't find it,” she said of her mother's body. “If we don't, there is a chance that she is still alive. Maybe she faked her own death and escaped.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she shook her head. “No, if she was alive, she would have come back for me. She would not have left me with my grandfather.”


Eleanora looked deeply into his eyes, and he would be able to feel a surge of pure love pouring from her heart. “If there are others like me, I will learn what I can from them, but I will never leave you, dearest Johan. I will want you by my side every step of the way. If for some reason they reject you, then I will reject them. You are more important to me than anything in the world. And you always will be.”

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It was strange to think they had only recently met. Eleanora seemed to be a very part of his soul already. Joining together fully only seemed a formality. He was eager to give this most intimate and permanent union, to become one. Even if it was a massive spell and an even larger commitment, Johan wanted nothing more in the world.


It was all so sudden and absolute. But for Johan, that meant it had the mark of fate.


Johan nodded solemnly. He was glad she’d shared her fears. He always wanted to know her concerns, to bear their crosses together. He couldn’t assure her here, but he gently wrapped his arms around her. “I don’t either. We will find a way to be sure. I know of some books already. I… had my own concerns.” He had his own curse that he feared to pass on. He’d decided he’d have children even if they would end up like him. But he’d looked into ways to prevent it. It wasn’t the same. But it was a start.


Johan wasn’t worried about his people, though perhaps Eleanora was more correct here. Perhaps some would be angry they were deceived. Johan counted on his people’s personal loyalty to him and their desire for new conquests. Then again, he was also counting on the common culture mythos. More than one person concealed their identity as part of an epic saga. And Johan imagined this was their own saga, the story that would be sung of the love of Johan and Eleanora.


Johan looked down again when Eleanora wished for her mother’s life. He thought that was probably a forlorn hope, but he hugged her. He smiled down at her, a comforting, loving thing. His fingers gently ran along her arm, rejoicing in their closeness and touch. Maybe she did. It was certainly fit for a story, “We will see what happens. But whatever it is, we will be free there. From fear, from hate. Free to be ourselves. Free to love.”


Johan looked into his beloved’s eyes. His fingers gently clung into the fabric of her clothes, seeking closeness. That safety, that love, that acceptance… for him and her, that was what he wanted. More than anything.


Johan smiled. The pure love radiated from her heart and Johan closed his eyes as it washed over him. It was an obviously pleasant experience. “I know you would never leave me. You know you are dearer than life or air, my sweetest Eleanora. And I am your beating heart.” And there was a swell in his heart. There always was when she affirmed her love. His own love rose in return and radiated out.


“But you will be a Queen then. And I will be a King. They might want you to help them gain acceptance. Or to be part of the palace. Ask you to influence me.” Eleanora would have many petitioners. No doubt magic users would be among them, “Or perhaps you already want them to be accepted?”


Eleanora had already promised him she would commit many good works. Johan wasn’t opposed to her bringing about tolerance. But magic users were no doubt hated. It would be a difficult battle.

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Eleanora didn't think much about fate, but it did seem like destiny for them to be bonded together for eternity. They were already joined in every other way, even though they had only known each other for a few short days. Johan was so much a part of her now that the life she had lived before she met him seemed like it belonged to someone else. Only her bruises remained as proof of the time before, and soon they would be gone as well. There were also some emotional scars, but Johan's love was rapidly healing those.


She snuggled close in his embrace, some of her fears receding in the comfort of his arms. “There are books here in your forest about different kinds of magic and their compatibility? Or are they in your castle? The problem is that I do not know if there is a name for the kind of magic I possess. You are the only other person I know with magic. I do hope we can find some answers before I become pregnant.” At first, she had wanted to start on their family immediately, but now she would rather wait until they knew what effects their combined magic would have on their children.


Yet that was not up to them, unless they abstained from making love, and Eleanora didn't think either of them would be able to remain celibate for long. Even now, she desired him, right here in the apple-carriage. A silvery thrill meandered down her spine as he ran his fingers up her arm. She hugged him tightly and lifted his other hand to her lips, kissing it softly. “Before I met you, I never thought I would taste freedom. But now I wish it for all of the people who live in my grandfather's kingdom. Their lives are dismal now and I want them to be as happy as we are.”


His emotions answered hers and Eleanora felt bathed in the warm glow of his love. It didn't bother her that he would be considered the sovereign of the kingdom that rightly belonged to her, for she no longer thought of it that way. It was theirs. And he knew so much more about ruling than she did. Her people would accept him readily despite the fact that he was a Saxon. He was kind and caring and wise beyond his years.


“I will never try to convince you to do something you don't believe in. But we share the same goal … for all people to be accepted into our kingdom, even those with magic. I know it will not be easy. My grandfather hated magic, and most of the nobles probably do too. If we show them that it can be used for honorable purposes, I think they can be convinced.”


Her head tilted to the side. “I feel such a yearning to learn how to heal that I wonder if my magic is somehow linked to healing. Maybe everyone with my kind of magic are healers. Until I find them, if they exist, I will never know.”

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